Panel strength proves key as fringe men stake claims

As football has evolved in recent years, many aspects of our game have changed and one of the most prominent developments has been how much counties now measure themselves on the strength of their squad rather than the strength of their team.

In previous generations, there was a core group of 15 to 17 players that were responsible for how their side fared on any given day, now we hear managers refer to the depth of their 30-man panels.

Going into Saturday night’s game, there had been much made of both Jim Gavin and Conor Counihan’s named teams.

Based on previous experience there was little faith in either side to line out as selected but from reading through both subs lists these were arguably the two strongest squads in the country with Cullen, Bastick, McManamon, Rock amongst those in reserve for Dublin while O’Leary, Kissane, Kelly, Kerrigan and O’Connor were sitting on the Cork bench.

As it turned out, the only change was on the Dublin team, with Cullen starting in place of Eoghan O’Gara which meant both managers were in a position to send for quality reinforcements.

While having the options available to them on paper seems great, one of the biggest challenges both managers would have faced in the lead-up to the game was dealing with guys who would feel they are good enough to start and make sure they are in the right frame of mind to make a positive impact when called upon. Will they sulk or will they put they shoulder to the wheel for the good of the side?

Managers will learn a lot about a player’s character by how they react to the news they won’t be starting and have to be aware how different players deal with the situation.

Both teams made the five allocated changes and without question Dublin’s subs made a bigger impact and helped guide them over the line while none of Cork’s had a significant impact.

On the scoreboard alone, Dublin’s subs combined to kick four points with two from Dean Rock and one each for Kevin McManamon and Denis Bastick. Philly McMahon and Eoghan O’Gara also made positive contributions towards the end of the game which highlights how well prepared these five players were in making sure they understood what was expected of them and how to deliver it.

A lot of credit for that must go to Jim Gavin who has been very consistent in his approach all year. He has said from the start of his tenure that the guys in form will hold the jersey and that he is willing to put his best 20 against any other 20 in the country as he believes in his squad. This attitude is clearly bought into by the players.

From a Cork perspective it appears they arrived at this stage of the season unsure about the form of many players and with so many changes to personnel from the Munster final team going into the Galway game maybe some of the players who were left out struggled to get their heads right for their new role off the bench. Cork also look like a team undecided on the style of play that suits them best. At times they look like a running team, where carrying the ball at speed plays to the strengths of the majority of their players yet they went out to try a long ball tactic which paid dividends early on with some magnificent high fielding from Ciarán Sheehan but as the game wore on the long ball seemed more in desperation than anything else. A long direct ball can be effective but usually when the inside forwards have built an understanding where you would often see them attempting to deliberately break it down to each other rather than just pumping it in long and hoping for a break.

Dublin can now look forward to an All-Ireland semi final in four weeks, where over those four weeks you know they will be working to find their next best 20, because as Jim Gavin has said all year he is going to put his best against ‘your best’.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice, the ball is in your court.

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